July 15, 2016

How did Geisinger decide to change its dress code? It asked the patients.

Daily Briefing

Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Dec. 10, 2019.

Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Medical Center (GMC) has updated its dress code for nurses—and the revamp wasn't initiated by executives. Patients led the charge.

What your patients expect from their care—from millennials to the silent generation

Noting the importance of nurse professionalism, hospital leaders sought to determine how their nurses were perceived by patients. In a survey, 400 GMC patients were presented with images of nurses in varying outfits—such as scrubs that were mismatched, tight-fitting, or that revealed tattoos and jewelry—and asked to identify which they preferred.

Geisinger Health System published the findings in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing.

The survey found that many patients couldn't distinguish between different types of nursing staffers, such as registered nurses and nursing assistants. The survey results also indicated that patients wanted nurses to dress in a uniform manner.

The survey found that:

  • 95 percent indicated a photo of a nurse in solid navy scrubs was the most professional;
  • 85 percent strongly disliked a photo of the nurse wearing a long-sleeved, tie-dyed shirt and blue scrub bottoms;
  • 74 percent indicated that a nursing team looks professional when all are in the same uniform; and
  • 59 percent disapproved of holiday-themed scrubs.
  • In addition, the survey found that patients preferred on first meeting a nurse to be greeted as "Mr." or "Mrs.," and then by their first name, instead of greetings like "honey" or "sweetheart."

New dress code

The survey results prompted GMC to revamp its dress code. At the end of the process, GMC consolidated its 70 different nurse dress policies into just one document. Under the new policy, RNs wear gray and white scrubs that have "Registered Nurse" and the system's logo prominently displayed on their tops and scrub jackets. In addition, nurses' certification initials are now embroidered on the left sleeve.

Crystal Muthler, CNO and VP of nursing, said, "When the patients and families responded, we listened," adding that other departments are now starting to make changes to their dress code policies as well.

To help offset the cost of buying new work attire, nursing leadership provided each RN with a $150 allowance toward purchasing the new, required uniforms, along with a 25 percent discount on those purchases (Jones Sanborn, Healthcare Finance News, 7/13; Geisinger Health System press release, 7/11; Budryk, FierceHealthcare, 7/12; West et al., Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, January 2016).

What your patients expect from their care—from millennials to the silent generation

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